REVIEW: Carousel by Richmond Operatic Society

Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers – better known as Rodgers and Hammerstein – produced some of the most memorable musicals ever, none more so than the story of Carousel worker Billy Bigelow and his love for Julie Jordan.

It is a heart-warming tale of what-might-have-been sorrow and the decisions we make in life, joyously portrayed by Richmond Operatic Society in last night’s first evening of their four-day run at the Georgian Theatre Royal.

The near sell-out audience loved the songs, loved the enthusiasm and loved the story, so snap up any spares and go along. You won’t regret it.

Carousel barker Billy (Connor Speight) is an erratic yet loveable character who falls for and weds millworker Julie ((Victoria Bennett) and there is a sub-plot involving ambitious fisherman Enoch Snow (Brodey Laundon) and Carrie Pipperidge (Natasha Aspden).

Some of the songs have become household names such as ‘June is bustin’ out all over,’ ‘If I loved you’ and of course the football anthem ‘You’ll never walk alone.’

Firstly, the actual singing. Exceptional. Under director Suanne Harding the voices hit their mark, in particular Carrie and Nettie Fowler’s (Amy Fudali) rendition of ‘You’ll never walk alone.’

Set in 1870s New England Billy and Julie were terrific as star-crossed lovers but when the former loses his job he falls for a daft plan badly hatched by whaler Jigger Craigin (Hugo Grieve).

In between Carrie and Enoch continue their courtship while Billy initially turns down Jigger’s plan. Julie’s announcement that she is pregnant makes flat broke Billy think again and this time he accepts Jigger’s prompting in the hope that the robbery will mean financial security for the Bigelow family.

Billy makes a pretty poor criminal and needless to say the plot is foiled with the result that he never gets to see his daughter Louise (Georgie O’Reilly) grow up.

The final acts are a poignant reflection on how mistakes can have devastating effects, but there is also a message of hope in the ending.

The critics adored Carousel when it was first performed in 1945 in New York and one accurately described it as “the theme is timeless and universal: the devotion of two people who love each other through thick and thin……..complicated by the wayward personality of the man, who cannot fulfil the responsibilities he has assumed.”

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s work has been described as the greatest musical theatre writing partnership ever – Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, The King and I, South Pacific – and they are still very relevant today.

Domestic violence is an issue in Carousel, while racism was at the forefront of South Pacific. Very few writers, especially in musicals, were covering such themes when Rodgers and Hammerstein were in their pomp. Carousel is not a predictable boy meets girl and things-go-wrong storyline.

ROS have done a fine job in resurrecting Carousel and after nearly two years of Covid closures it is a triumph to see the theatre back where it should be, never walking alone.

  •  Carousel is at the Georgian Theatre Royal until Saturday May 21st.